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Radio Access and Use in Uganda

Uganda's mostly rural population relies heavily on radio to stay informed as well as to communicate with each other via talk shows and other formats. Much of the radio industry is regionally based, with broadcasts in local languages and programming that caters to local tastes.

In the AudienceScapes national survey, 83 percent of respondents said they have household access to a radio. In addition, many who do not have home access to a radio said they listen in public places such as restaurants or cafés and even in other people’s homes. In fact, 96 percent of respondents said they listen to the radio at least weekly. This is 13 percentage points higher than the percentage of those who said they have home access.

Chart 1


There are about 180 radio stations in Uganda, including regional-level, community-based and national stations that utilize repeater stations. [1] The only stations with a national footprint are transmitted by the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), an independent state agency. In order to possess a national reach there are multiple regional repeater stations in key urban areas.

The UBC broadcasts six radio channels: Green, Red, Blue, Butebo, Magic FM and Star FM. The programming of UBC’s color channels is in a wide range of languages, while Star FM broadcasts solely in Luganda, the most widespread indigenous language, while Magic FM, a sports channel, broadcasts only in English.

UBC stations do not dominate the market despite the advantage of state subsidization and broader reach. All other stations are either commercially run or are funded by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). For a breakdown of the most popular radio stations by region and demographic groups see the Outlets section.

One of the multiple NGOs to support media for development in Uganda is UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which has partnered with other domestic and international NGOs to help establish community media centers such as Radio Apac in the Northern region, Nabweru CMC in the Central Region, and Kachwekano in the Western region. They are intended to disseminate information related to community needs on topics such as agriculture, marketing, health, education, gender issues and HIV/AIDS. To get these stations off the ground, UNESCO supplies a small briefcase size radio which includes a 30Wt transmitter and a 100Wt amplifier. Some stations have become successful enough to upgrade their transmitters to 100Wts or above. A significant portion of local content is provided and produced by local civil society groups. In addition to being radio broadcasters, many of these community media centers also provide access to different ICTs and office services such as printing and word processing. [2]

Chart 2


There are also a number of economic development and social change projects that use radio as a key means of communicating with their target audiences. Projects do this in a number of ways, including regularly scheduled agricultural market updates, public service announcements in the form of jingles or songs, scripted dramas and even game shows. Many of these efforts are one aspect or tool used in larger campaigns to educate and inform.

An example of such a campaign was an HIV/AIDS awareness project conducted in Gulu in the Northern region by the the Entebbe Women Association (EWA), a domestic NGO, and the World Association of Christian Communication (WACC). The campaign used radio programs, live drama performances, and the training of local stakeholders. The project, conducted in late 2007 and early 2008, sought to combat the stigma about people who live with HIV and AIDS.

The Gulu municipality was a particularly difficult environment for the project. As an economic hub for both the Northern region and Southern Sudan, Gulu faced high unemployment, insurgency, constant population movement and gender-based violence. The project coupled drama and music sessions with radio programming to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, highlighting issues surrounding stigma, the care and support of HIV/AIDS patients and the community’s role in HIV/AIDS prevention. The EWA purchased airtime on Mega FM, one of the region’s most popular radios stations, to broadcast six radio programs in 2008. The programs also offered support to listeners, as they could call in during the broadcasts for more information.

Organizers gleaned important lessons from the project. First, that the campaign must be multi-faceted in order to invoke larger social change. The project has to engage with the public and local officials through more than one conduit. The street drama and music performances were judged to have made deep impressions on their audience and the radio programming was used to continue that dialogue while providing more in-depth information. Crucial to the project, said organizers, was engagement with local leaders and community organizations. The partnering with local leaders built confidence within the community towards to project and its message and gives the project a better chance of becoming sustainable. [3]


[1] “Broadcast Radio and Television Stations as of February 2009”. Uganda Communications Commission. Kampala, Uganda. Accessed January 2010. http://www.ucc.co.ug/spectrum/RadioTVStationsInUganda28Feb2009.pdf

[2] Edited by Hughes, Stella and Ian Pringle. “Community Multimedia Centres Around the World-Global Directory”. UNESCO. New York, NY. November 2005. Accessed January 2010. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001427/142792e.pdf.

[3] “Fighting HIV and AIDS Stigma in Northern Uganda”. Soul Beat Africa. Accessed January 2010. http://www.comminit.com/en/node/290377. and Ermish, Marie-Louise. “Tools for fighting HIV and AIDS stigma in Northern Uganda”. World Association for Christian Communication. Toronto, CA. Accessed January 2010. http://www.waccglobal.org/component/content/article/1557:tools-for-fighting-hiv-and-aids-stigma-in-northern-uganda.html-hiv-and-aids-stigma-in-northern-uganda.html.